Why Finger Joints Click, Snap, and Pop

finger click
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Be reassured that the most common cause of finger popping is not a problem at all. Many people can make their fingers pop, often called cracking their knuckles. The sound you hear is caused by air bubbles moving in the fluid that surrounds and bathes your joints.

When there is no pain associated with finger popping, it is seldom a problem and really harmless. That being said, if your noisy finger joints are associated with pain or swelling, it's good to see your doctor for an evaluation.

Tendon Problems

Tendon snapping is usually the result of a trigger finger. Trigger fingers are usually noticed when relaxing a fist. Then, as the fingers straighten, the trigger finger may snap open or may stay stuck in a bent position.

Finger tendons can also snap after a traumatic injury. If the finger tendons are damaged, they may slide out from their normal position. This is called a tendon subluxation and is most commonly seen on the back of the hand as the tendon slides off the knuckle and into the groove between the fingers. 

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments hold joints together and are often damaged when a finger is sprained or dislocated. If the ligament heals improperly, the joint may pop or snap during bending.

Osteoarthritis

Finger osteoarthritis can cause the wearing away of the normal smooth cartilage surfaces of the joints. As arthritis worsens, joint movements can become limited and painful.

Arthritic joints in the fingers often cause swollen, "knobby" knuckles.

Finger arthritis can cause popping and snapping as a result of small bone spurs around the arthritic joints. The joints may pop or snap because of uneven surfaces or alignment abnormalities. Patients may notice a small bump around the arthritic joint called a mucous cyst.

It is interesting to note that osteoarthritis of the hand is more common in women over the age of 50, and there is also a strong genetic component linked to it. This means that having a parent with osteoarthritis of the hand (especially the one who is the same gender as you) appears to increase your risk of developing it. 

Other factors that increase a person's chance of developing arthritis in the hand include a history of manual labor or repetitive use of the hand. Smoking and handedness may also play a role, but it is not as clear. 

A Word From Verywell

Finger snapping, popping, and clicking has not been shown to be a cause of arthritis, despite what you may have been told—a common misconception. However, that is not to say that finger clicking is never a problem.

The most common sign of a problem that is related to snapping or clicking is pain associated with the noise. So if you have a click or a snap in your finger, and it hurts when the click or snap occurs, it is worthwhile to have the finger checked by your doctor. Sometimes there are simple solutions to these problems and others that may require more invasive treatments.

Sources:

Deweber K, et al. Knuckle cracking and hand osteoarthritis.  J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Mar-Apr;24(2):169-74.

Kalichman L, Hernández-Molina G. Hand osteoarthritis: an epidemiological perspective. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Jun;39(6):465-76.

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